Game History Annual Symposium – Montreal, June 27-28, 2014

Pleased to announce the upcoming Game History Annual Symposium to be held June 27 & 28, 2014 at Grande Bibliothèque, Montréal, 475, boulevard De Maisonneuve Est, Montréal, QC.

The 2014 edition of the symposium features panels on the many communities and social practices that define the history of video games: the role of engineers, game designers and store owners, the retro gaming phenomenon, user generated content, marginal themes and the place of minorities, etc. It is our pleasure to welcome four distinguished keynote speakers at the symposium: Tristan Donovan (journalist, author of Replay), Mia Consalvo (Canada research chair in game studies, author of Cheating), Philippe Ulrich (founder of Cryo) et John Szczepaniak (journalist, hardcoregaming101).

Includes the exhibit ‘Micromakers. Early ZX Spectrum Homebrew Development’: In 1982 the introduction of the ZX Spectrum color microcomputer created an affordable platform which catalyzed hobby programming cultures in the United Kingdom. This exhibition will chart notable contributions by hobbyist Spectrum game makers, commenting on the larger microcomputer development scene, and exploring possible connections to contemporary independent game production. (Curator: Skot Deeming; Consultant: Alisson Gazzard).

The Game History annual symposium is a platform to connect media historians, sociologists, museum curators and any other researcher interested in the cultural history of games. The event is presented in partnership with Université de MontréalLUDOV (Lab @UdeM for the Documentation and Observation of Video games)Homo Ludens (UQAM), TAG (Technoculture, Arts and Games research center) (Concordia University) and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

 Access is free!
 For information about the program and registration, please visit our website or our Facebook page

 

Nous sommes heureux d’annoncer l’édition 2014 du Symposium Annuel Histoire du Jeu, qui aura lieu les 27 et 28 juin 2014 à la Grande Bibliothèque, Montréal, 475, boulevard De Maisonneuve Est, Montréal, QC.

Le symposium propose des panels sur diverses communautés et pratiques qui ont forgé l’histoire du jeu vidéo : le rôle des ingénieurs, des créateurs de jeu et des marchands, le phénomène du jeu rétro, la création de niveaux par les joueurs, la place des minorités et des thématiques marginales, etc. Nous accueillerons également quatre conférenciers invités : Tristan Donovan (journaliste, auteur de Replay), Mia Consalvo (Chaire de recherche du Canada en jeu vidéo, auteure deCheating), Philippe Ulrich (fondateur de Cryo) et John Szczepaniak (journaliste, hardcoregaming101).

Inclut l’exposition ‘Microfabricants. Les débuts du développement ‘fait maison’ sur la ZX Spectrum’: En 1982, l’arrivée du micro-ordinateur couleur ZX Spectrum a engendré une plateforme de création abordable, qui a agi en tant que catalyseur pour la culture des programmeurs au Royaume-Uni. Cette exposition s’attachera à retracer les contributions importantes des créateurs de jeux amateurs sur Spectrum, proposant un commentaire sur le milieu du développement sur micro-ordinateur, et explorant les connections éventuelles avec la culture actuelle de création indépendante. (Commissaire: Skot Deeming; Consultante: Alisson Gazzard).

Le symposium annuel Histoire du jeu est un lieu d’échange pour les historiens des médias, les sociologues, les journalistes, les conservateurs et tout autre chercheur qui s’intéresse à l’histoire culturelle du jeu. L’évènement est présenté en partenariat avec l’Université de MontréalLUDOV (Laboratoire Universitaire de Documentation et d’Observation Vidéoludique, le groupe de recherche Homo Ludens(UQAM), le groupe de recherche TAG (Technoculture, Arts and Games) (Université Concordia) et Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

 L’accès est gratuit!
Pour plus d’informations sur le programme et l’inscription, veuillez visiter notre site web ounotre page Facebook

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Research & Thoughts on Handheld (& Mobile) Gaming

I recently contributed to a journal submission with a few colleagues (now in review) and I was tasked with fleshing out a section on game studies (with a specific goal mind you). Writing a bit on mobile gaming (and more specifically handheld devices such as the Nintendo DS), I was taken aback about how little I could find. Of course, after we submitted the manuscript, Samuel Tobin‘s book Portable Play in the Everyday was available as a free download at Palgrave (Pivot titles). I must say, I am very much enjoying it. It is nice to see research on mobile gaming (and not just ‘apps’ on phones etc) that looks at the who what why how and where people play mobile games. I especially like the idea that mobile gaming is pervasive in our everyday lives, played in the liminal moments of life instead of being the prime activity front and center. An activity that often fills the gaps between happenings. Reading through some of the examples of the book, I find myself nodding in agreement as I think about my partner borrowing my daughter’s DS when he drives me to do groceries. He hates shopping of any sort, so he sits in the car and waits for me while he plods away playing the DS. The game is (often) irrelevant – the goal is not to finish a level or mission, but to fill the gap while waiting for time to pass until it

This is in complete contrast to the ways we normally think about gaming. A console confines the player to a certain time and space. When turning the console on, it is with the goal to log in and play a game (of course this can be argued the more and more our consoles are being redesigned as multi-functional multimedia devices). Of course, it could be argued that playing a console game can also be a means to pass the time between two events – but more often than not, the act of playing a game on a console (or pc ..) is the activity in and of itself.

Another interesting point that Tobin makes is that many DS players don’t consider their DS play as ‘gaming’ in the same sense as one would think of console or pc gaming, making it more of a challenge to research who is playing mobile games, why, when and how much. I am not done the book yet (I have a few books on the go – making my attention span a bit wobbly). But I look forward to reading more about handheld gaming.

Also, if ‘social, casual and mobile’ games is your thing, there is a “Call for Chapters: Social, Casual, Mobile: Changing Games (Edited book collection)” but hurry, deadline for abstracts (500 wrds) is Dec 6th, 2013!

The time has (finally) come: The PhD defense

It has been just shy of 5 years since I began my PhD, and it’s been almost 8 years since I have been working on understanding that weird ‘something’ that I felt between myself as a player and Velixious, my avatar from way back when. Over the years, the research has shifted from a quest for personal understanding to exploring how others felt about their avatars, shifting notions of identity, and finding ways to deconstruct videogame play to understand if, when, and how what I have come to term as ‘hybrid-identity’ occurred.

And now the time has come to lay it all out on the line and defend my work:

Between Play and Design: The emergence of hybrid-identity in single-player videogames

June 29, 2012
9 :30 – 13 :30

Short Abstract:

This dissertation examines the complex nature of identity in single-player videogames. It introduces the concept of hybrid-identity and proposes an analytical framework to deconstruct gameplay across genres to distinguish moments of identity emergence. Hybrid-identity is a fluid, at times fleeting form of identity that exists between the player and the player-character which is developed during the networked process of videogame play. It necessarily includes the player (experience, play-context, etc.), the game environment (design, mechanics, etc.), and the mediating technology (computer, console, etc.) that facilitates gameplay.

In order to delineate the different aspects of gameplay that contribute to the potential emergence of different types of identity, a multifaceted framework was devised to isolate specific interactions between the player/player-character, player-character/non-playing character, player/game environment, player-character/game environment, and player/player. This framework was coupled with a secondary frame of analysis which included the examination of the specificities of the individual player and the mediating technologies that facilitated gameplay. A systematic analysis of gameplay and design elements of three different games; Mirror’s Edge (DICE, 2008), Alone in the Dark (Eden Games, 2008), and Fable 2 (Lionhead Studios, 2008) was performed to illustrate the varying degrees of identity emergence in different game structures.

For more details on location etc., please contact me via email.

Making room (again) for sociality in MMOG’s

A recent blog post over at TAG  got me thinking about the role of down time in MMOG’s. Something a lot of (but not all) gamers complain about. It seems that if a game is not chalk full of action, it is often deemed boring or not very good. Over the years, MMOG’s seem to have fallen into this mindset as well, making quests faster (and easier imo), combat is swift, recovery time often little to non-existent, and corpse recoveries that used to take hours turned into a respawn or resurrection…Some people like the fact that the pace of MMOG’s have gone the way of an action-packed, single-player game.

The TAG post mentions that a colleague disliked SWtOR game because there was “no gameplay/no challenge” and the response to this is that he is right …. but the post goes on to say:

But that’s the point… I felt that familiar tedious rhythm of questing in MMOs return.  That steady pace, ever incremental, always one more thing on the horizon… time slows, workdays are neglected, worries recede.

And what’s this?  Time to ponder, time to think, time to reflect.  Playing SWtOR, like all MMOs, brackets time and space — its a virtual world excuse to chat and socialize  for some and it’s time alone for others.  But what is the nature of this time alone?  You are occupied at the keyboard but barely occupied cognitively… this is why MMO players are great multi-taskers.  You can play the game while chatting on the phone, watching television, doing email and even playing other games, or…  you can ponder and muse about stuff.

Time to ponder and think indeed. For me, the gaps in the gameplay brings mmog play back to its social roots… it is what the waiting is for…… see, back in the day (for me, this starts with EverQuest in 1999), mmog’s were known for long pauses between action, everything took forever to do, even finding a group and getting to the agreed upon location. But they were also known for the close bonds and relationships among guild and group mates because you had nothing to do but hang out and chat while waiting for mana to regen. as mmo’s developed, but as early as Dark age of Camelot gameplay started to shift to exclude the social bits. The big thing was closing the gaps between battles, speeding up the regen time, eventually moving to insta-recast, etc. While this made gameplay more ‘fun’ and action packed for some, what got lost was the available moments for sociality. It didn’t take as long to level up, you didn’t need as many people to help for quests, and battle could rage on almost non-stop as long as you could stay alive.  But it came at a cost.

For me, this idea that mmog gameplay should be quicker and there should be less ‘waiting’ is actually what ruined my mmog experience. There was no more time to chat even about in-game stuff; little time to strategize during combat. Every moment had a purpose, unless you consciously chose to sit somewhere and be social, it didn’t happen. See, a lot of people aren’t social by choice (especially in video game play). They don’t want to say “hey, instead of killing mobs and leveling my avatar, I am going log into the game, and go sit in a city or safe place and have a chat with my guildmates, or heck, with random players”. This is not to say that people don’t do this, but having the space to socialize within structure of play is different.

But when the waiting is designed INTO the gameplay then eventually, people talk. They strategize, tell stories of past battles, get to know each other but not “on purpose” … they socialize. Not many people like silence (at least when in a group) – even digital silence – when in a group. It was always just a bit awkward to sit in a group of 6 in EQ back when (or in WoW when I did play) where everyone just sat there, waiting for the mob to spawn or someone to have enough mana to continue… So people chose to fill the silence – the waiting  – with social bits… Even people who couldn’t care less about being social, ones who, when you talked to them about it later (as I did for my MA research) didn’t see the value in it as an end within itself, would talk about how these moments, over time, became the social glue that bound a group or guild together. To me, judging solely on the TAG post, it sounds like SWtOR brings that old “waiting” mentality back to mmog’s, slowing the action down and returning to a sort of ‘social’ (or potentially social, some people will just sit in silence, or choose to play alone, etc…) gameplay.

I was always furious when people could not see the value in those downtimes. It is where trust and bonds are made that lead to better gameplay experiences (I say imo, but I know this at least from my experience of interviewing ppl during my MA and just being an MMO player over the course of 5 different mmo’s- of a certain era of course – I stopped playing when the first WoW expansion hit, but still – there are so many stories of bad PUGS, people you will never see again, not only because they were horrible players, but because you didn’t have to bother getting to know who you were playing with. There was hardly time to do so. When you can sign your name to an automatic list for a group, get picked up solely based on your class, get insta-ported into the location, and get into battle within a short period of time, there is no sense of obligation to the group or the individual players. If a group sucked, it was nothing for many players to feign getting booted out of the game to rid themselves of a bad group. But when it took you an hour to get something going, the process of getting your foot into a group through chatting up your skill set and accomplishments, taking the time it takes to travel to the camp spot, when you get there and a group sucks, you stick around if only for the time you’ve invested in getting into the group.

Don’t get me wrong, in EQ back in the day, there were bad pick up groups, there was always that person who could never quite play their class right, or what have, but because you got to know people over time (smaller servers helped of course), and you had already committed so much time in getting the group together, you stuck it out (maybe even just a bit more). And while there will always be crappy groups, in my experience, I’ve found that if you have time to talk about things, even if its just strategy, the group usually gets better. But when the game forces you to be in action 95% of the time, there is less time for the glue to gel. Of course, the addition of VoIP enabled players to have these discussions ‘while’ fighting, but in my experience, voice chat never quite enabled the same type of bonding (I have many theories on that, but I will reserve them for another day).

In the end, I think that all the epic feats talked about among elite players would never have happened (here I am referring to EQ specifically, but it is transferable) or not with the same amount of pride that many elite players have when recounting their stories. In my opinion, without these ‘waiting’ times designed into the game – people would not develop the same levels of attachment to the game, to their avatars and to their fellow guild/group mates, for these epic battles to be successful (and fun), there needs to be a level of trust and camaraderie in place. And trust has space to develop in these moments of waiting….I could go on about this, but I will restrain myself…

Current Findings in MMO Research and Marriages: Or, my rant about headlines and media coverage

The rounds of headlines that are coming out of the last round of research on the impact of gaming on marriages (and from what I see, MMORPG’s) look like this:

When it could look like this:

and the most balanced headlines I’ve seen:

See, all these articles reference the research of Michelle Ahlstrom, Neil R. Lundberg, Ramon Zabriskie, Dennis Eggett, Gordon B. Lindsay who researched and wrote an article called  ME, MY SPOUSE, AND MY AVATAR: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MARITAL SATISFACTION AND PLAYING MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER ONLINE ROLE-PLAYING GAMES (MMORPGS)

What bothers me the most is that every one of the articles linked above go on about the statistics and reasons people fight (and divorce) over excessive video game play. Of course, blaming the game, not the person or the relationship (thanks to Kotaku for pointing this out yet again for those who tend to forget). The titles reflect the negative view the media feeds off of when it comes to video games, addiction, social problems, violence, etc… (reminds me of the whole cigarettes are bad for you and lets do everything to make you stop smoking EXCEPT not selling cigarettes, because where would we make all that money from otherwise!? thing – but I digress).

What I find the most interesting is, after all the articles point out the negatives (without mentioning the context of the couples), is that there were positive effects found in the research. But the fact that the abstract itself gives six lines of the bad stuff (detailing it) and ends with ” Positive effects of gaming together were also identified.” …. can you maybe share in the abstract as much as you’ve shared the negative impacts?

Personal anecdote. My partner started playing EverQuest when it was released. It took up all of his time. It made me cranky (he has an obsessive personality). After a few months (3 actually), I decided to see what all the hype was about, made an avatar, loved it so much, we bought a second computer, opened a second account and we played together for 6 years (Dark Age of Camelot, Lineage II, and World of Warcraft). It was some of the best times of our lives as a couple – and as parents of young kids. We were housebound more often than not (never had any babysitters), and we played with Danes so our play schedule wasn’t infringing too badly on family life (and they loved fishing and doing tradeskills, so we all got to play!).

When we were faced with criticism from outside people (who didn’t play), we would always explain that it was no different than spending the weekend together camping, playing golf, whatever. The point was that we were doing something together that we both enjoyed. We even met people from around the world through our gaming experiences (and a trip to Denmark to remember!). Our circumstances and interests centered around gaming, and we are thankful for those bonding times. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had plenty of fights because he didn’t heal fast enough (he was a gnome cleric for a while) or I didn’t get my slow in on the mob fast enough (I always played a shaman)… there were nights I went to bed mad because my corpse was left out to rot (in early EQ days, there was a timer, and if you didn’t get your corpse out in time, your items would disappear – most corpse retrievals were long battles in secondary armor if you weren’t friends with a good monk).

Point is, all of these articles quote the article as saying:

  • “According to the study, 76 percent of respondents from the “both game” group “reported that MMORPG playing had a positive effect on their marriages.”
  • “The take-home message is that doing things together, whether you’re video gaming or doing something else, is better than doing something apart,” Lundberg says. “This confirms the idea that doing things that create interaction and bonding is obviously going to strengthen a marriage.”
  •  However, shared gaming produced a positive effect on the marital relationship for 76 percent of the couples playing together (which constituted 62% of the study participants).

Title, Abstract & One Final Push (and some editing)

A (very) brief update today, but I’ve (finally) come up with a title and wrote the formal abstract for my dissertation. After hundreds of pages of writing, one would think that the abstract would not be as challenging as it was. If interested, you can find it here.

I feel a very strange mix of pride and fear as I put this out there. For so many years, I have only talked about my work, while publicly presenting my secondary research interests. In some ways, keeping my primary research close to my chest has kept it safe in my head, but there comes a time when I have to just put it out there, hold my head up and be proud of what I have been working on over the last few years.

Working Through Ideas and Reality

I have been working on what is essentially the same research question since 2004 – working towards understanding the player/avatar relationship and identity – not in it’s classic sense as that which belongs (and identifies) an individual or entity (avatar), but rather how identity is morphed and redefined through digitally mediated interactions into something new. I am sure I can come back to this statement in two hours and re-articulate it again and again – get lost in it and come back again, but in the end, when I am talking about “hybrid-identity” (as I have yet to find – or invent – that perfect word for what it is I am talking about), that is basically what I am talking about.

My MA work pointed to a very specific, contextualized form of ‘hybrid-identity’ – an identity which emerges from the long term interactions between the player and the avatar and the game world over time and (social) interaction. This identity does not belong to either the player or the avatar, although both player choices and avatar design play a part in it (along with other contributing elements). I developed a framework of interconnected gameplay elements that contribute to the emergence of this type of identity in mmorpg’s. (note: this research stemmed from Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Lineage II and early WoW [pre-Burning Crusade] – since then, there have been significant changes to the genre that may alter the original framework. I will address this in my dissertation if all goes well =)).

The (long term) goal of the framework is to be able to apply it to a range of games (and contexts) and determine whether or not the conditions exist for ‘hybrid-identity’ to (potentially) emerge. My PhD work is testing the framework that I developed in my MA (specific to mmorpg’s) against different genres of games (through close readings of gameplay) to see where the framework breaks down, what restructuring is required  for it to be a useful analytic tool, and essentially, to test whether or not ‘hybrid-identity’ even has the potential to emerge in single-player games. Of course, the most grandiose  goal of my research is to re-articulate the nuances of identity in digitally mediated game play (and not just the player’s or the avatar’s).  These are my ideas.

The reality that I have been struggling with while writing is seeing my ideas materialize into clear, defendable arguments. The challenge of making proof plagues my sociological brain. It all makes perfect sense to me. I see it with my eyes; feel it with my heart, but when I try to explain what I mean, I sometimes lose control of my argument and find myself caving into the exist definitions of identity. The concept of identity is so concretely grounded in the human (or at least as a human construct), that trying to pry it loose seems to be a very messy (and sometimes controversial) project. I am passionate about my ideas, it is the reality of articulation (and proof!) that keeps jamming a stick into my spokes.

And with all of that – it is time to get back to work. I am close… so very very close to getting this dissertation out the door … perhaps when it is enveloped in its intro and conclusion, the reality will mirror my ideas and I can breathe easy again.